British and Irish Lions legend JJ Williams has come out in defence of Warren Gatland and Rob Howley in the wake of Sean O’Brien’s scathing attack of their coaching on the summer tour to New Zealand.
Williams knows all about what it takes to win a series with the Lions having been on the greatest tour of all to South Africa in 1974. He also went to New Zealand in 1977, when the Lions won one of the four Tests.
But he believes the Class of 2017 didn’t have the back line talent to match the All Blacks and feels they did much better than expected to draw the series against the double world champions.
“This is just sour grapes and I can’t agree with what Sean O’Brien has said. I think maybe there is still some gripes about Warren Gatland in IreIand lingering from the 2013 tour when he dropped Brian O’Driscoll,” said Williams.
“I thought the Lions did extremely well to get the draw in the series in New Zealand because they were the second best team. It’s out of order to criticise the coaches so soon after the tour.
“All we’ve heard up to this point from the players is how much they enjoyed the tour and how good the team spirit was – that’s what got them so far.
“Getting the draw was a hell of an achievement because it wasn’t the greatest of Lions teams. They lacked any real star quality in the back line to have done what the 1971 Lions did. British and Irish rugby lacks players like that at the moment.
“Their defence was very well organised, and they did score some good tires, but they couldn’t play like the All Blacks. Not many can!
“The bottom line is that the All Blacks don’t ever get beaten 3-0 in a series in New Zealand. It’s arrogant in the extreme to say that would have happened if the coaches had been different.”
Gatland will be with Wales through to the 2019 World Cup, along with Howley, but intends to head home to New Zealand after that. Whether or not Howley, who has twice stepped into the role of head coach during Gatland’s absence through injury and Lions duties in the past, takes over is a moot point.
There has been well documented criticism of the Welsh back line during his tenure as attack coach, but under him Wales have won two Grand Slams, a third Six Nations title and reached the semi-finals of a World Cup.
On the Lions front, he can point to having won a Test in each of the three major southern hemisphere nations on his three tours. The Lions went down to a 2-1 defeat in South Africa in 2009, won the rubber 2-1 in Australia in 2013 and drew in New Zealand this summer.
Williams added: “Just take a look at the statistics. They give a more accurate picture.”